Actor Mark Wayne Salling of "Glee'' fame pleaded guilty Monday to a federal charge of possessing child pornography involving images of prepubescent girls found on his laptop computer and a flash memory drive.
Salling, 35, of Shadow Hills, best known for his role as Noah "Puck" Puckerman on the now-defunct Fox series, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II, who set March 7 for sentencing. Salling has agreed to serve at least four years behind bars, according to his plea agreement.
Salling was named in a two-count indictment stemming from a December 2015 raid on his home, where Los Angeles police detectives found thousands of images and videos depicting child pornography, court papers show. Once investigators realized the scope of the illegal collection, the matter was referred to federal authorities for further action.
Salling was accused of receiving at least one illicit image and a pornographic video of young girls via the internet and being in possession of a 16-gigabyte USB flash drive that contained two videos showing girls who were younger than 12, according to the indictment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joey Blanch told the court that between April and December 2015, Salling used the internet to download 600 videos and about 29,000 images of sexually abusive "child erotica," including some showing "sadistic and masochistic" behavior. Victims included children ages 2 to 6 years old, she said.
Salling knew that the material showed "real minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct," Blanch said.
His head shaven and wearing a dark suit, Salling said little during the change of plea hearing in downtown Los Angeles.
"Yes, your honor,'' he replied when asked by Wright if he was indeed guilty of the charge. The judge allowed him to remain free on bond pending sentencing.
Although facing a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, Salling's plea deal calls for a sentence of between four and seven years behind bars. The actor also agreed to serve 20 years of supervised release once he is set free and pay at least $50,000 to each victim seeking restitution, the document shows.
Several victims portrayed in Salling's "highly organized" collection of illegal pornography have already come forward to request restitution, Blanch said.
The prosecutor said investigators were first notified of Salling's stockpile of child porn after the actor showed two images from the collection to an adult woman "in the context of their relationship.'' The woman contacted authorities, Blanch told the court.
Wright said that he would need to hear from Salling before his sentence was imposed, telling the defendant, "I need sincerity'' and some insight into the possibility of recidivism.
People who look at such material come from all walks of life, according to Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles.
"The traditional stereotype about the kinds of people who commit child sexual exploitation crimes simply doesn't dovetail with reality,'' he said previously. "While people are often surprised when high-profile individuals come under scrutiny in such investigations, we hope cases like this will raise awareness about law enforcement's vigilance to combat the online sexual exploitation of children and hold those involved, regardless of their position, accountable for their actions."